Early Lunch at Lupa: A Bargain at a Price

Twice a day, I am Tim Zagat (www.zagat.com), though admittedly I lack the wiry frame and BBC-worthy voice.  Twice a day, no restaurant’s door is closed to me.  My secret is well-known: eating  off hours.  I can’t buy expensive meals, but I can buy free time.  In short, I can afford to eat out when others can’t afford to be away from their desks.   In the crepuscular crack between 5 and 6 P.M. and the late morning laze before 12:30 arrives and Manhattan feels entitled to eat, nearly ever place is happy for my business, or at least game enough to fake it.   Yes, if you can pick your time, you can pick your table.  And if these early meals don’t suffice, by all means do what I do, eat again at a more cosmopolitan hour.  That said, off hours eating can be an expensive bargain.  Feel is the first victim in a half-empty house: absence of diners spells absence of ambience. After feel, quality is often the second casualty.  At off hours, front and back of house drop orders and nurse and renew hangovers; leftover open wine from the night before gets poured for the marginal while new bottles await regulars diners eating at regular hours; finally, some items, as well as some chefs, just aren’t ready yet.  Many of these deficiencies don’t jump out, and I’m often happy not to know or notice.  Occasionally and inexcusably, the front of house does make it clear that the real game hasn’t begun yet or has already ended.  Yesterday at Lupa www.luparestaurant.com, for instance, my heretofore friendly waitress left halfway through lunch. She had me at hello but apparently felt no need for a goodbye as she scurried off to a more important engagement.   This was clearly not an important hour of service for her or the restaurant.  A replacement was perfectly competent, though the perfunctory dessert offer made it clear that  he and several colleagues preferred to return to their activities at the bar.  Over there, a jovial crowd of underoccupied servers slurped grappa with the furtive fervor of pre-schoolers set loose on Sippy cups of Kool-Aid.  Amidst these distractions, the food offered some pleasures, but not enough to restore the balance.  A small carafe of wine was the perfect amount and price for lunch, particularly on a day when I had to give up my customary dessert nap.  Unfortunately, the bottle of Sicilian red from which my carafe was poured had spent too much time enjoying the sunshine and open air on an unseasonably pleasant March day.  The warm flavors  in the glass were fine.  The warm temperature of the wine was not.      Vegetable offerings were the most adventurous part of the savory menu, particularly the beets with pistachio sauce.  Nonetheless they didn’t feel terribly seasonal on a warm proto-primavera afternoon;  nor did the odd combinations come to seem inevitable.  Instead, they simply felt strange.  I’d rather have the pistachio sauce on a dessert and the beets with just about anything else.  Charcuterie was good, but that’s not good enough in 2007.   When Yorkville (the flyover country Midwest of the UES)’s Uva and Spigolo serve decent testa and prosciutto, a place like Lupa needs to dig deeper to make its plate of salumi stand out.  Standards for high-end casual Italian have risen since 1999, and I’m not sure Lupa hasn’t been a bit too casual in keeping up with the market it created. More disappointingly,  the much trumpeted gnocchi simply didn’t live up  to post- or pre-millenial press.  They were utterly adequate and unsublime.  13 dollars is steep for a cup and half of paste and sauce that neither promises nor offers a hint of revelation; mediocrity is never cheap.Buttermilk panna cotta was an easy sell, and I bought.  The texture was perfect pap for infants and the infirm, or simply lazy chewers, but the liquor soaked fruit accompaniment did instill a little fun into a snoozy meal.In sum, Lupa remains a going concern but not one to concern those living outside the neighborhood enough to go.   It hardly merits a journey or even a detour from elsewhere on the island, even if you live on the Lexington line.   On the right night at the right hour, a good meal could be had, but my off hours forays will unlikely bring me or any friends of mine back.   I got, almost, what I paid for. 

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One Response to “Early Lunch at Lupa: A Bargain at a Price”

  1. Food Fanatic Says:

    You should have tried the composed cheese plate. It’s way beyond Uva’s standards.

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